National Hispanic Heritage Month: STAFF SPOTLIGHT

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Marilyn Bran, ACSW, PPSC

Bilingual Mental Health Therapist

My parents were born and raised in Guatemala – specifically my mom is from Quiche and Chichicastenango and my dad is from Guatemala City. My mom grew up in two different towns that had deep roots to the Mayan culture through their traditions, celebrations, festivals, and clothing. My dad grew up in the city, more of an urban feel. They migrated to the US in the 80s, during the Guatemalan Civil War, seeking asylum and safety. Although their road to get here was challenging, they managed to raise a family in Los Angeles.

A lot of our traditions, celebrations and food were heavily influenced by their Guatemalan background. At home I would often listen to marimba music which is often played during celebrations in Guatemala and during the holiday season we would make Guatemalan tamales. Our home was also adorned with colorful tablecloths made from textiles from Chichicastenango; Guatemalan worry dolls hung on the wall in the kitchen.

My home would smell of typical food from their country such as Hilachas (broth with potatoes, beef and seasoning), Caldo de Res (broth with beef and veggies), Chuchitos (another type of tamales), Platanos rellenos (plantain-filled with black refried beans), and Frijoles Volteados (refried black beans). I also found myself noticing that some Spanish words I used were not used by other peers who spoke Spanish. It was eye-opening to learn that even the way I spoke Spanish was influenced by my parents’ Guatemalan culture.

My background and culture have helped me connect with my clients and their families on a more personal level. When I first meet with families – and throughout their treatment – I provide space for families to tell me about their culture, beliefs, and traditions. The information I learn helps me consider how to approach their treatment, how I can provide support, and how I talk to them about the stigma that comes with seeking support for mental health.

There are two traditions that I am always in awe of that happen in Guatemala. One is that during the Holy Week (Semana Santa) around the Easter holiday, cities like Antigua hold festivals, parades, vigils, processions, and display carpets of colorful sawdust in different patterns. Not only is it colorful and inspiring, but also beautiful to see everyone come together for this event where they may also share food amongst families. The second tradition is watching the “Convites” which is a parade of dancing in costumes that have roots in Mayan tradition and has now morphed into a display of costumes of popular characters from movies and shows. It’s so unique to see people dancing in rhythm with handmade costumes – another event in which the whole town comes together to witness and share.

If you ever find yourself wanting to travel, I highly recommend visiting Guatemala as it is rich in history, culture, and traditions. You can visit Tikal where they have Mayan ruins, or Chichicastenango where they have the largest open market with food, textiles and more.